PROTECTING THE GIRL CHILD (2) – SEXUAL HARRASMENT AND RAPE
Beyond and above all else, the one challenge most females in Nigeria (and the world over) will readily identify with without giving much thought, is that of sexual objectification. In simpler grammar, you see a female and the first thing that goes through your mind as a man is the image of her writhing on the bed in the throes of sex. You are checking out her physical statistics, front, behind and elsewhere. And hey, it doesn’t really matter if she is a minor or a fully developed adult; she is fair game as long as she possesses a sexual reproductive organ. Which accounts for why the media continually gets awash with stories of horrific tales of sexual molestation of female minors, some as young as suckling toddlers.
We live in a patriarchal society where the right of the female is often subdued to accommodate the whims and caprices of the male. For instance, a female is raped in the most gruesome fashion but is so scared to speak out because, society would most likely, rather than call out the perpetrator for his crimes, turn on her, the victim, for being a victim. She could either be accused being too loose or for being the reason why the rapist was lured in the first place. You hear questions like, ‘what was she wearing sef? Wetin she find go there?’ So, eventually, the victim becomes a double victim while the perpetrator is left unchallenged to continue with his crimes. In other scenarios, assuming the perpetrator is caught and cannot effectively wriggle out of his crimes, you see family members going to meet family members of the victim, asking to ‘settle the matter’, which in this case, means, not allowing the law take its course, and attempting to use monetary inducements to salve the emotional trauma of the victim. And often times, these kinds of arrangements are supported by law enforcement agents who have been brought in to effect punishment on the crime and the criminal.
It is therefore deductive to say, the prevalence of rape and sexual molestation of the girl child enjoys the unwitting support of the most of us. From family members who try to ‘settle’ the victim, to the tendency of society to further victimise the victim through stigmatization, the girl-child almost stands no chance of true protection from sexual savagery. What is more, with the recent passage of the anti-rape bill (as the Sexual Offences Bill is also known), the provisions contained in the section dealing with the age of consent to have sex leaves much to be desired, hence the public outcry that greeted it once the details were made public, most notably, from the Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka. The bill stipulates amongst other things, a life-imprisonment for any individual found guilty of rape or sexual intercourse with children UNDER 11 YEARS.
This, if signed by the president, will defy the international standard code of law which puts the age of consent at 18 and also, the provisions of Section 1 of the Child Rights Act which provided that “in every action concerning a child, the best interest of the child shall be the primary consideration.” Perhaps, the odious bill drew its inspiration from practices prevalent in the Northern part of Nigeria where children are usually married off at a tender age, a classical example being that of a senator and former governor of Zamfara State, Ahmed Sanni Yerima who got married to a 14 year old Egyptian girl. The controversy generated by the marriage prompted officials of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and other Related Matters, NAPTIP, to wade into the matter.
If the laws which are meant to protect (most notably), the girl child can be this trifled with, then, it stands to reason that society has yet to do its duty to this vulnerable class. Enacting stringent laws that have no place for sentiments, religious nor cultural, as well as, enforcing the tenets of those laws in protecting the girl child, is a duty we all owe to ourselves, irrespective of whichever side of the divide we fall. Victim or Perpetrator !
By Olayinka Odumosu & Jide Odi